Labor Summer

The reason I am a State Senator today is because of my life’s work in the labor movement. Before joining the California State Senate, I was the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and before that, I was President of the Hotel Workers Union Local 11. The first women to be elected to this position. 

I grew up in the Central Valley of California.  My family were farmworkers, and I was the 7th of 11 children.  I know firsthand what it takes to survive on poverty wages with no healthcare. Unions bring hope and change for workers, and the right to a collective voice to earn good wages and safe working conditions. And we are witnessing a rise in union activism like we haven’t seen in decades, so this is an exciting time to be part of Labor Summer.

48,000 graduate student workers of the University of California launched the largest and longest strike in the history of higher education last year.  And they won on average more than a 40% wage increase.  There will be a special group of Labor Summer fellows who will be documenting the lessons of the strike, and preparing a curriculum for other graduate students to learn from their experience.

Just a few months ago, 60,000 teachers and classified workers of the LA School District launched a three-day strike.  The teacher’s union won a 21% wage increase, and the Classified workers won a 30% wage increase. The Writer’s Guild strike is in full swing, with other unions in the entertainment industry standing in solidarity. First time solidarity across the board!

This summer, my union, UNITE HERE#11, is engaged in major contract negotiations impacting tens of thousands of workers in over 100 hotels. The three years of the pandemic were hard for workers and their families.  Essential workers were on the front lines, risking their health and safety, farmworkers made sure we never had a food shortage. But the pandemic also saw growing economic and racial inequality, with corporations making massive profits.   

The pandemic taught us if others in our community don’t have access to health care, no one is safe.  I authored landmark legislation to provide health care access for undocumented immigrants in the State of California.  2 million undocumented immigrants now have health care access in California. 

I authored landmark legislation to eliminate piece rate work for garment workers, a twenty-year fight to prevent the sweatshop conditions in the garment industry. Decades after I was a union organizer myself, I passed legislation to gold corporations responsible for wage theft.

Through my work as a State Senator, I led the campaign to secure a $13 million augmentation of funds for Labor Centers and Labor Studies programs throughout the University of California.  I argued that here in the State of California, we need a worker centered economy, not a corporate centered economy.

Now all nine UC campuses have Labor Centers to teach our students about the role of unions, the importance of organizing, and the power of collective action. And the first joint project of all of the Labor Centers has been to recruit student activists to take part in this first Labor Summer.

I got my start as a union organizer right out of law school.  And I never regretted that decision.